Canon PowerShot A490 (Silver) review: Canon PowerShot A490 (Silver)

Canon PowerShot A490 (Silver)

Joshua Goldman

Joshua Goldman

Managing Editor / Advice

Josh Goldman helps people find the best laptop at the best price -- from simple Chromebooks to high-end gaming laptops. He's been writing about and reviewing consumer technology and software for more than two decades.

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6 min read

Canon updated 2009's PowerShot A480 by splitting it into two models: the A490 and A495. The PowerShot A490 is about $20 less expensive than the A495, but it's available in silver only; it has a 5-point Face AiAF autofocus system instead of the A495's 9-point; it has neither a Face Self-Timer (explained later in this review) nor Canon's two, new creative shooting modes--Super Vivid and Poster Effect; and it uses 13 scene settings for its Smart Auto mode, whereas the A495 uses 18.


Canon PowerShot A490 (Silver)

The Good

Excellent photos for its price; reliable Auto mode.

The Bad

Short battery life; low-resolution LCD; slow shooting performance; very basic features.

The Bottom Line

Though its feature set is light, the Canon PowerShot A490 is a very good choice for anyone on a tight budget who still wants excellent photo quality.

Regardless of those differences, both cameras turn out great photos for their budget price tags (though the A495 seemed to get negligibly better results in Auto mode). The biggest downside is that they aren't remotely fast when it comes to shooting performance, and shot-to-shot times are particularly long. Still, if you're strapped for cash and want a pocket camera, both are worth the money for their photos alone. The extra shooting modes on the A495 are nice, too, but if you don't need them or any of the other things mentioned above, save $20 and get the A490.

Key specs Canon PowerShot A490
Price (MSRP) $109.99
Dimensions (WHD) 3.7x2.4x1.2 inches
Weight (with battery and media) 6.7 ounces
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 10 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch CCD
LCD size, resolution/viewfinder 2.5-inch LCD, 115K dots/None
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 3.3x, f3-5.8, 37-122mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still/video) JPEG/Motion JPEG (.AVI)
Highest resolution size (still/video) 3,648x2,736 pixels/ 640x480 at 30fps
Image stabilization type Digital
Battery type, CIPA rated life AA-size alkaline (2), 150 shots
Battery charged in camera No; alkaline batteries supplied
Storage media SD, SDHC, SDXC memory cards
Bundled software ZoomBrowser EX 6.5/PhotoStitch 3.1 (Windows); ImageBrowser 6.5/PhotoStitch 3.2 (Mac)

The A490 is chubby, but still reasonably compact. It's not very wide or tall, but is more than an inch thick, so though it'll fit in a pants pocket, it might be a tight squeeze. From the front, the camera looks reasonably stylish with nice rounded corners. Unlike the A480, the buttons don't feel cheap and are clearly marked in white on black. In fact, the overall build seems improved. Plus, Canon kept the controls straightforward and simple, and the menu systems are likewise uncomplicated.

On top are the power and shutter-release buttons, with the remaining controls on back to the right of the LCD. At the top is a zoom rocker, below which are a button for playback, a four-way control pad with select button, and the shooting mode and Menu buttons. The Menu button pulls up two tabs of general settings whereas the select button (labeled Func. Set) opens shooting mode-specific options. Overall, it's easy to control and should be simple enough for beginners out of the box.

The lens is narrow, at a 35mm-equivalent of 37mm, and it has an optical zoom of 3.3x, which is standard for cameras in its class. The LCD, despite its decent size, is fairly low resolution and even though it gets fairly bright, it can still be tough to see in direct sunlight.

This model is powered by AA-size batteries--something many people find convenient. However, you'll only get about 150 shots out of the A490 before they'll need to be replaced. Getting two NiMH AA-size batteries should more than double your shot count, though.

General shooting options Canon PowerShot A490
ISO sensitivity (full resolution) Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1,600
White balance Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, Custom
Recording modes Auto, Program, Special Scene, Movie
Focus modes Normal, Macro, Infinity, Face AiAF, Center AF
Metering modes Evaluative, Center-weighted average, Spot
Color effects Vivid, Neutral, Sepia, Black & White, Custom
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) Unlimited continuous

The PowerShot A495 predictably doesn't have a lot of shooting options, and the A490 has even fewer. The most complicated it gets is in Program, which gives you options for white balance, focus, metering, ISO, and color effects. Don't want to touch any of those things? Canon's Smart Auto (simply called Auto now) is very reliable at picking the appropriate settings based on 13 different scene types. Or you can choose from 1 of 11 special scene modes, like Fireworks, Long Shutter, Foliage, or Kids & Pets. Canon renamed its High ISO mode "Low Light" to alleviate confusion, but it's otherwise the same, capturing 2-megapixel shots at ISOs from 500 to 3,200. If you like taking a lot of close-up macro shots, the A490 is a great option for the money. You can get very close--down to 0.4 of an inch--and the autofocus seems improved from the A480, which struggled to properly focus.

The Movie mode is VGA only, with no use of the optical zoom while recording. The video quality is good--on par with a standard-definition pocket video camera. It's fine for a quick clip to post online, but not much else.

Performance, though not dreadfully slow, is still pokey. It takes 2 seconds for the camera to go from off to first shot captured. Shutter lag is a little long in bright lighting conditions: 0.6 second from pressing the release to capture. In dim lighting, the shutter lag is 1 second. Shot-to-shot times are mediocre at 2.9 seconds without flash, jumping to a lengthy 7.1 seconds with it on. Lastly, its continuous shooting time is only 0.6 frames per second. Basically, if you're hoping to catch shots of an active toddler, an athlete in action, or fast-moving pet, this camera isn't a good option.

The photo quality from the A490 is excellent for the money and is actually better than some more expensive models. Of course, it produces the best results below ISO 200--sharp with plenty of fine detail. But even at ISO 800, noise and noise suppression are well balanced, making 4x6-inch prints possible. When photos are viewed at 100 percent, you will see noise, particularly in darker areas of photos. However, it's nothing that would keep me from recommending this model.

The lens has minor barrel distortion at its widest position and no discernable pincushion distortion when zoomed out. Center sharpness is very good, though there was some softness in the extreme corners. The amount of purple fringing in high-contrast areas is average for its class: visible when photos are viewed at full size, but not likely to destroy a photo.

Colors are great from the A490. Blues are a touch lighter than they should be according to our tests, but others are close to accurate, and are bright and pleasing. Exposure is generally very good, though clipped highlights aren't out of the question.

Canon's PowerShot A3000 IS is $20 more than the A495 and has a better lens, a rechargeable battery, and image stabilization, but honestly, I'd rather save the money and get the A495 or the A490. The shooting performance was comparable, but the photo quality was better from the two less expensive models in my tests.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Smaller bars indicate better performance)
Time to first shot  
Typical shot-to-shot time (flash)  
Typical shot-to-shot time  
Shutter lag (dim)  
Shutter lag (typical)  
Canon PowerShot A490
Canon PowerShot A495
Casio Exilim EX-Z33
Nikon Coolpix S220
Pentax Optio E70

Typical continuous-shooting speed (frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Canon PowerShot A490

Find out more about how we test digital cameras.


Canon PowerShot A490 (Silver)

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 6Image quality 8
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